While hard drives keep growing in capacity at a pace we've never imagined, we still find ways to fill them up quickly on our Windows 10 devices with tons of pictures, videos, apps, games, and files we download from the web.

If you're running low on space, before rushing for a new drive, you can use tools built into Windows 10 to clean up junk files, apps, and games you never use to optimize the space you already have. Using these tools will not only help to free up space, but it'll also help to improve system performance as it's never recommended to run a hard drive at full capacity.

In this Windows 10 guide, we' walk you through seven quick ways, plus an eighth bonus trick, to free up storage space on your device (in addition to emptying the recycle bin) to make room for more important files and improve performance.

  1. Delete junk files using Storage sense
  2. Remove temporary files using Disk Cleanup
  3. Uninstall apps and games you don't need
  4. Free up space storing files in the cloud
  5. Disable Hibernation on Windows 10
  6. Compress Windows 10 installation to free up space
  7. Migrate files, apps, games to an external hard drive
  8. Bonus tip: Understanding what's taking space on a hard drive

1. Delete junk files using Storage sense

Storage sense is a rich feature that provides an easy way to quickly delete junk files from a hard drive, such as previous installation and temporary files to free up space to store more critical content and improve system performance.

Deleting junk files using Storage sense

In order to use Storage sense to free up space, do the following:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Storage.
  4. Under "Storage sense," click on Change how we free up space automatically link.

  5. Check the Delete temporary files that my apps aren't using option.
  6. Use the drop-down menus, and select how to delete the recycle bin files and files that you're storing in the Downloads folder. Options available, include:

    • Never.
    • 1 day.
    • 14 days.
    • 30 days.
    • 60 days.

    Quick Tip: If you're looking to delete the most number of files, select 1 day from the drop-down menu.

  7. (Optional) Under "Free up space now," you can also select the option to delete the previous installation of Windows 10. However, this option is only available during the first ten days after installing a new feature update.

  8. Click the Clean now button.

Once you've completed the steps, Windows 10 will run the maintenance tool immediately to free up space on the hard drive.

Configuring Storage sense

While you can use Storage sense at any time manually, it's recommended to enable the option to run maintenance automatically.

In order to allow Storage sense to run automatically when you're running low on space, do the following:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Storage.
  4. Under "Storage sense," click on Change how we free up space automatically link.
  5. Use the Run Storage sense drop-down menu, and select one of the following:

    • Every day.
    • Every week.
    • Every month.
    • When Windows decides (recommended).

After completing the steps, Storage sense will run automatically depending on your configuration.

2. Remove temporary files using Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup is a tool that has been designed to give users a more granular control to delete unnecessary files from a hard drive, and starting with Windows 10 version 1803 (April 2018 Update), you can remove the same items using Control Panel and Settings app.

Removing temp files using Settings

Starting with the April 2018 Update, you can virtually delete the same items listed in the Disk Cleanup tool using these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Storage.
  4. Click the Free up space now link.

  5. Check all the items you want to delete, including:

    • Windows upgrade log files
    • System crashed Windows Error Reporting files.
    • Windows Defender Antivirus.
    • Windows Update Cleanup.
    • Thumbnails.
    • Temporary files.
    • Recycle Bin.
    • Temporary Internet Files.
    • Delivery Optimization Files.
    • Previous Windows installation(s).

    Note: The options available will always vary. For instance, if Windows 10 already deleted the previous version, you won't find the "Previous Windows installation(s)" option.

  6. Click the Remove files button.

Once you've have completed the steps, Storage sense will delete the files you selected freeing up space for more important files.

Removing temp files using Control Panel

Alternatively, you can also use the Disk Cleanup tool experience using Control Panel to clean up unnecessary files from your device.

Deleting system files

In order to delete temp files using Disk Cleanup, do the following:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. On "This PC," right-click the drive running out of space and select Properties.

  3. Click the Disk Cleanup button.

  4. Click the Cleanup system files button.

  5. Select the files you want to delete to free up space, including:

    • Windows Update Cleanup.
    • Windows upgrade log files.
    • Downloaded Program Files.
    • Temporary Internet Files.
    • System created Windows Error Reporting.
    • Delivery Optimization Files.
    • Recycle Bin.
    • Temporary files.
    • Temporary Windows Installation Files.
    • Previous Windows installation(s).

  6. Click the OK button.
  7. Click the Delete Files button.

After completing the steps, just like using Storage sense, the temporary files will be removed from your device freeing up additional space.

Deleting System Restore and Shadow Copies

If you have System Restore enabled, and you use Shadow Copies (volume snapshot that allows to backup files even when they're open), you can also delete junk files to reclaim additional storage using these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. On "This PC," right-click the drive running out of space and select Properties.
  3. Click the Disk Cleanup button.
  4. Click the Cleanup system files button.
  5. Click the More options tab.
  6. Under "System Restore and Shadow Copies," click the Cleanup button.

  7. Click Delete to confirm.

Once you have completed the steps, your device will reclaim several hundred megabytes.

3. Uninstall apps and games you don't need

Uninstalling apps that you don't use, such as those apps that came preinstalled when you purchased your device, or those you installed but never used is another great way to free up space on Windows 10.

In addition, modern games that downloaded into your machine usually can quickly fill up your hard drive, as such you want to keep the number of installed games to the minimum — not just to reclaim storage, but also to improve gaming performance.

In order to uninstall apps and games, do the following:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Apps.
  3. Click on Apps & features.
  4. Use the Sort by drop-down menu, and select Size to identify the apps and games wasting the most space more quickly.

  5. Select the app you want to remove, and click the Uninstall button.
  6. Click the Uninstall button again.

After completing the steps, you'll need to repeat the same instructions to remove other apps and games wasting a lot of space on your device.

4. Free up space storing files in the cloud

If you use Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service, you can also help to save local storage using the Files On-Demand feature.

OneDrive Files On-Demand is a feature that allows you to access your documents, photos, videos, and music stored in the cloud using File Explorer, but without having to sync them or use a significant amount of local storage.

When the hard drive is running low on space, you can use this space-saving feature to upload and keep your files in the cloud and download them only when you need them.

Enabling OneDrive Files On-Demand

In order to enable OneDrive Files On-Demand, do the following:

  1. Click the OneDrive icon in the notification area of the taskbar.
  2. Click the menu button, and select Settings.

  3. Click on the Settings tab.
  4. Under "Files On-Demand," check the Save space and download files as you use them to enable the feature.

  5. Click the OK button.

Once you've completed the steps, you can start using Files On-Demand to move files to the OneDrive folder and make them available only online to free up space.

Freeing up space with OneDrive Files On-Demand

You can free up space using Files On-Demand using these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click on the OneDrive folder from the left pane.
  3. Select the files and folder taking the most space.
  4. Right-click the selection, and select the Free up space option.

Alongside making previously synced cloud files available with an internet connection, you can free up even more space by moving files from your account's default folders to the OneDrive folder, and then use the same steps to free up space.

You can even take space-saving using Files On-Demand to the next level by syncing all your files stored in the Desktop, Documents, and other account folders without manually having to move them to the OneDrive folder using this guide.

After completing the steps, you'll be able to access your files using File Explorer, but they will appear with a white cloud with blue borders icon, and you'll need an internet connection to open them.

If you're using the free version of OneDrive, you can only store up to 5GB of storage, but you can always sign up for the paid subscription to up the limit up to 1000GB.

5. Disable Hibernation on Windows 10

On Windows 10, Hibernation is a feature that saves the data in memory to the hard drive allowing to power off your device completely without losing your work. Then when your device comes back on, you can pick up just where you left off.

Although Hibernation is a neat feature, depending on your system memory size, it may require several gigabytes of space to store the data loaded in memory into the hiberfil.sys file.

If you're running low on storage and every gigabyte counts, you can disable Hibernation to make room on the hard drive using these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Command Prompt, right-click the top result, and select Run as administrator.
  3. Type the following command to turn off Hibernation and press Enter:

    powercfg /hibernate off

While it may be obvious, bear in mind that disabling Hibernation that you'll no longer be able to use the feature, but it's another way to reclaim a few additional gigabytes when you need the space immediately.

At any time, you can use the same instructions to re-enable Hibernation, but on step No. 3, make sure to use the powercfg /hibernate on command.

6. Compress Windows 10 installation to free up space

Compact OS is a command line tool designed to compress the installation and apps files to reduce the overall footprint of Windows 10 making room to store more valuable files.

Typically, Compact OS is a feature reserved for low-end devices with limited storage out-of-the-box, but anyone can use it without any noticeable performance impact, and you can always undo the changes.

Warning: This is a friendly reminder that modifying system files is risky, and it can cause irreversible damage to your installation if you don't do it correctly. It's recommended to make a full backup of your PC before proceeding.

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Command Prompt, right-click the top result, and select Run as administrator.
  3. Type the following command to compress the Windows 10 and apps, and press Enter:

    compact.exe /compactOS:always

Once you complete these steps, the Windows 10 installations and built-in apps will compress freeing up around 2GB on average. The process usually takes anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes, and it's not required to restart your computer.

If you no longer need this feature, you can always revert the changes using the same instructions, but on step No. 3, make sure to use this command compact.exe /compactOS:never.

Although anyone can use this feature, you should only consider using Compact OS as your last resort.

7. Migrate files, apps, games to an external hard drive

If you've tried every method, but you're still running low on storage space, it's time to consider getting a new drive.

The easiest way to add more storage to your devices is to connect an external hard drive that you can use to move existing and store future files. Also, you can configure Windows 10 to move Microsoft Store apps and games to the new drive to free up even more space in the system drive.

If you don't know which one to get, in this guide, we help you get the best external hard drive to add extra space to your computer.

Moving existing files on a new location

In order to move existing files to the new storage, connect the external drive to your device, and then follow these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the folder with the content you wish to move.
  3. Select the items you wish to relocate.
  4. Under "Home" tab, click the Move to button.

  5. Select the Choose location option.
  6. Select the new drive.
  7. Click the Move button.

After completing these steps, you'll have to repeat the same instructions to move other files and folders to the new location.

Saving new files to the new location automatically

It's also possible to configure Windows 10 to save files and install apps to the new location automatically using these steps after connecting the new removable drive:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Storage.
  4. Under "More storage settings," click the Change where new content is saved link.

  5. Using the drop-down menus, select the location to save files automatically for each content type.

  6. Click the Apply button.

After completing the steps, Windows 10 and supported apps will save files to the new location by default.

Moving apps and games to a new hard drive

Windows 10 also allows you to move many Microsoft Store apps and games already on your device to an external storage without having to reinstall them.

In order to move apps and games to another drive, connect the new storage to your device and use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Apps.
  3. Click on Apps & features.
  4. Select an app or game.
  5. Click the Move button.
  6. Use the drop-down menu to select the location.

  7. Click the Move button again.

Once you've completed the steps, repeat the same instructions to move other apps or games to the new drive.

When using this option, remember that you must keep the external hard drive connected all the time. Otherwise, you won't be able to start the apps or play those games you moved to the new location.

8. Bonus tip: Understanding what's taking space on a hard drive

Although you may already know that the hard drive is running low on storage, you probably still don't know what files are taking the most space, which is valuable information to understand the files you need to clean up. Thankfully, the Windows 10 Storage settings include a disk analyzer tool to check what's taking up space.

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Storage.
  4. Under "Local storage," click on the hard drive running low on space.

In the Storage usage page, the tool analyzes how space is being used, giving you a better understanding on the areas that you need to clean up.

You can also click each of the areas to see even more details and additional actions you can take to free up space.

For instance, if you click the System & reserved item, you'll be able to see how much space the installation of Windows 10 is using, as well as how much space virtual memory, hibernation files, and system restore are occupying on the local drive.

If you're noticing that the Apps & games category is taking a lot of space, you can click this item to access the "Apps & features" settings to figure out and remove the apps and games that are using the most space.

Do you know other ways to free up space on Windows 10? Share your tips in the comments.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources: